(On International Men’s Day, The Quint is reposting this story from its archives. Originally published on 19 November 2018.)
This might startle many people in India. A man being subjected to domestic violence seems unbelievable to us as a society, primarily due to the extreme gender stereotypes that we have inherited for centuries.
When a man goes public about facing domestic violence, abuse or harassment at the hands of his wife, not only is his ‘mardaangi’ (masculinity) questioned, but he is also ridiculed for not being able to stand up to ‘ek aurat’ (a woman). Both of these biases are dangerously problematic. They are fruits of the same patriarchal order that devalues women and whatever is considered ‘feminine.’
Like every other law, the IPC Section 498A made to protect women against domestic violence has also been misused by some to settle scores or extort money.
Men who have reported their own experiences of harassment and violence – ironically, say the law against domestic violence has been used against them by the wife’s family.
27-year-old Sonu Sharma got married in 2016. He says things went from bad to worse for him on 7 January 2017, when his six-month-old baby accidentally fell off the bed.
“My six-month-old baby fell off the bed and was bleeding from his mouth and nose. I told my wife that we have to rush him to a hospital, but she said that she can't, it's my baby and I should take him and that she wants to return to her parents. She called her family, told them that I had hit her and asked them to come pick her up,” he said.
After that, the woman’s family members got some goons and started misbehaving with Sharma’s farmily, he alleged.
“While I was taking my baby to the hospital, her family members came and snatched the baby from me. They then held me and thrashed me.”Sonu Sharma
In another case, Akbar Ali from Haryana alleged that he was asked to pay Rs 20 lakh to see his three-year-old daughter.
“In the third month of marriage, my wife went to her parents' house for Eid and did not return. She then called me to tell me that her parents have put her under house arrest and asked me to pick her up. When I reached there, they threw me out of the house. I moved the court and the court issued a warrant summoning her family and her to the court. But she lied in the court that I used to hit her and that is why she returned to her parents' house,” Ali said.
“I have a 3-year-old daughter. But in three years I have lived with her for just one year. They said that if I give Rs 20 lakh, I can take my daughter with me. She threatened me that if I don’t, she will not settle the divorce and make my life hell.”Akbar Ali (32)
Ali last saw his daughter in April this year.
Gurvinder, a 37-year-old, has also come forward and said he was blackmailed while his wife was having an affair.
“I realised that she was having an affair with someone since before marriage and she was continuing it after marriage. When I questioned her, she said that I was the ‘bank balance.’ After 10-15 days, I got a summon saying that I had subjected her to domestic violence and that I used to hit her and demand dowry. Now the demands for money keep pouring in,” he said.
When The Police Don’t Help
When the victims of harassment do approach the police, they say they were either ridiculed, threatened or thrashed.
33-year-old Jitesh Sachdev said that while he and his wife both approached the police, the cops registered her case but not his.
“Six months after we separated, she started contacting me again. She re-entered my house through my mother. Then her family members started threatening me. Later, a false complaint of domestic violence was filed against me. I then told the police that I will take a rented apartment and we started living separately there. But then her family's demands started increasing,” he said.
“Once they held me by my neck and my collar and tried to thrash me but I managed to resist. Both of us dialled 100 at that time and eight policemen entered my house. The police took her statement but not mine. The police laughed to my face and said that I can't take care of my wife.” Sachdev said that while one cop had threatened him, a woman police officer said, “Yeh shakal se hi ka***** lagta hai (he looks like a crook),” he added.
Lokesh Yadav, 33, narrated a similar story.
“I was told that the girl is fully educated. I realised within two weeks of marriage that she had failed class 9. When I confronted her father about this, he told me it was a very small thing and I was blowing it out of proportion,” he said.
“She then started telling the entire community that I hit her and abuse her, which I never did. She threatened that she will lodge a false case against all my relatives who had come to the wedding. Moreover, she alleged that we had taken 21 lakh as dowry, which I never did,” said a teary eyed Yadav.
“I went to file a complaint with the police, the police said that I must be the one hitting my wife and harassing her. The policeman took me to a corner and asked me if I would stay with her or not. He slapped me, threatened me and said I will stay with her or else.”
Yadav was married on 14 November, 2017. The police, however did not register any case against him.
Delhi police wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Masculinity, Patriarchy and Social Stigma
Journalist and Activist Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj, who advocates for men’s rights, said that after years of research, she had directed a documentary called 'Martyrs of Marriage,' which highlighted the plight of male victims.
“There are a lot of people who are raising their voice on the issues that women are facing. But there are very less people who are talking about how men are also on the receiving end of gender-based crimes. So I thought, as a journalist, as a filmmaker, it is my responsibility to bring the other side out as well,” she said.
“One, our laws do not recognise that (abuse against men). Two, our society does not recognise that. Even if a man is sharing his suffering or his experience, we tend to belittle his experience,” she added.
Bhardwaj said that the absence of gender-neutral laws is the reason many of them don’t report violence and abuse.
“There is no doubt that we have extremely strong gender stereotypes, our upbringing is in such a way that a man or a boy is told that he needs to be strong. And if he is being abused by somebody, especially a woman, he is considered weak to have it inflicted upon him,” she said.
“There is a lot of disbelief when we talk about domestic violence on men. That's the reason why men don’t go and report about these cases,” Bhardwaj said.
‘Being a Men’s Rights Activist Doesn’t Make me Anti-Women’
Roopenshu Pratap Singh, a lawyer and President of the North India division of Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF), said that people who advocate for men’s rights were often considered anti-women or anti-feminism.
“There is a large myth that this whole concept is anti-women, that if you are a men’s rights activist, you are anti-women, which is totally false. At SIFF, we conduct sessions for depression, pre-marital counselling and health. This is not about men and women at all, this is about right and wrong,” he said.
Bhardwaj said that she, as a woman, wanted to give a voice to the victims, irrespective of their gender.
“I am raising this voice for men, just because there are very less people who are doing it. Just because the person is a man, it doesn't mean that the person cannot be victimised,” she said.
“Most of the men's rights activists that I know of are not anti women. Them talking about rights for men, doesn't mean that they do not want rights for women,” she added.
The Supreme Court on 14 September, 2018 modified its order that provided for setting up of a committee to deal with dowry harassment complaints by protecting the provision of pre-arrest.
“We have protected pre-arrest or anticipatory bail provision in dowry harassment cases," the court had said.
“There should be gender justice for women as dowry has a chilling effect on marriage on the one hand, and on the other hand, there is right to life and personal liberty of the man,” the bench had said.
Bhardwaj said that the judiciary is reluctant to make such laws gender-neutral as there is no concrete coalition of data that can support the argument.
“The reason why the courts are not very sure of taking action when it comes to making the provision gender-neutral is because of the statistics. There are no studies, no researches that tell us how many men are victims of domestic violence, how many men are raped, how many men are sexually assaulted, how many men are sexually harassed,” she said.